The Exegetic Aim


Two of the four Christian gospels present genealogies of Jesus of Nazareth which trace his ancestry, via Joseph, back to the earliest days of the Old Testament.

The genealogies in Matthew and Luke both describe the male ancestry of Jesus's family. The ostensible, plain meaning of both toledot is that they relate a homogenous father-son chain via Joseph. But taken together, they build an obvious vulnerability: they contradict one another as to the identity of several generations of Joseph's ancestors.

These "alternative facts" would have provided ammunition for Jewish (and pagan) critics who ridiculed Christianity as it was spreading through Greek-speaking communities in the Roman Empire. The problem became acute once Matthew and Luke were accepted as canonical sources of Christian doctrine. In an atmosphere of fierce sectarian debate, the inconsistencies within the accounts would have unsettled both potential converts and waverers within the Christian fold.

Some early Christians thus looked for explanations that would enable them to affirm the literal truth of both Gospels.

The Great Stemma attaches to a tradition which had probably arisen within the first 200 years of the Christian era. This faction affirmed a disarmingly simple solution: the Matthew genealogy should be seen as describing the ancestry of Joseph, whereas the Luke genealogy is to be understood as an ancestry of Mary, terminating at her grandfather. The Joseph in Luke is made out to be Mary's grandfather, not her husband. To bridge the gap that this reading of Luke creates, the name of Mary's father, Joachim, was imported from a non-canonical text, the 2nd-century Protevangelium of James, as Załuska explains: [*]Załuska, Stemmata 148-9.

L'une des grandes particularités de nos tabulae generationum ... est le rattachement de la généalogie du Christ selon saint Luc à la Vierge. Pour expliciter cette idée on terminait ce lignage de façon apocryphe, en introduisant Joachim, et quelquefois Anne, père et mère supposés de Marie.

The Great Stemma so alters the Gospel of Luke that the entire bottom strand, beginning with Nathan, is presented as the biological ancestry of Mary, not that of her husband Joseph: ... Levi genuit Ioseph, Ioseph genuit Ioachim, Ioachim genuit Mariam, Maria genuit Christum. The Gospel of Matthew is left unchanged as the upper strand in the Great Stemma: ... Mathan genuit Iacob, Iacob genuit Ioseph, Ioseph desponsavit Mariam virginem. Matthew's "Joseph" is Mary's betrothed. With one genealogy per parent, there is no contradiction.

Another early exegetical dispute is referenced but not adopted in the Great Stemma by a careful juxtaposition of the Israelite leader Aaron, Elisheba (Aaron's bride) and her brother Nahshon. This alludes to half a sentence in Exodus 6:23. This states that Aaron married Elisheba, the daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon. This excited many exegetes because Aaron was leader of the tribe of Levi, while Amminadab was taken to be leader in his day of the tribe of Judah.

This marriage seemed portentous to some late-antique writers, because it implied that Amminadab became the ancestor of both a royal tribe (Judah) and a priestly tribe (the Levites). In the eyes of some Christian exegetes, the marriage could even be interpreted as forward-looking divine intervention, endowing all of David’s line with a tinge of priestly status by way of a far-back great uncle-in-law. [*]Guignard, Christophe. La lettre de Julius Africanus à Aristide sur la généalogie du Christ. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2011.

Advocates pointed as well to Luke's account of Mary visiting her "kinswoman" Elizabeth (Luke 1:36) who is descended from Aaron (the ur-priest of the Old Testament) and is herself married to a priest, Zechariah (both affirmed in Luke 1:5). Although the degree of kinship between Mary and Elizabeth is never explained, many thought this indicated Mary must be of partly priestly blood herself.

The Great Stemma author clearly did not accept this theory. The siblings Aaron and Elisheba are shown in restrained proximity but separated by blank space to emphasize that nothing joins them. The Great Stemma's mission statement insists Jesus was a pure-bred member of the tribe of Judah.

A third matter of exegesis in the diagram is a widespread opinion in both Jewish and early Christian writing that Nathan, the obscure son of King David who begins the Gospel of Luke's distinctive fork in the genealogy (Luke 3:31), is the same person as Nathan the prophet in David's court (2 Samuel 7:2).

This is largely based on the homonymy. Origen, writing in the 240s, accepts that the two must be a single person when he writes that Luke attaches Jesus not to Solomon but to the prophet Nathan who had excoriated his own father over the murder of Uriah and the birth of Solomon:

Quando vero de lavacro conscendit et secundo ortus describitur, non per Salomonem, sed per Nathan nascitur, qui eius arguit patrem super Uriae morte ortuque Salomonis.[*]In Lucam Homiliae, XXVIII.

The Great Stemma goes to some trouble to reject this notion. Nathan the Prophet is given his own distinct roundel (Nathan propheta) and this is placed as close as possible to the prince's roundel (Nathan filius David). The reason for this proximity is to make the distinction between the two persons explicit. Copyists plainly found this deliberate warping of the chart, with two interlopers placed among David's family, rather puzzling. In P, (one of the manuscripts described below), the two Nathans have been placed in direct proximity, as the Stemma author no doubt intended them to be, but the copyist has joined them together by a meaningless line. In Ro, there is no such connecting line, but the prophet and the priest have been banished as unexplained leftovers to the bottom left corner of the David page. In J, the prophet and priest are presented as an isolated axis of their own at mid-page, looking rather like a binary star system amid the galaxy of David's many wives and sons. This is at least in the spirit of the author's intentions, although the Beta group as a whole has badly misarranged the Davidian court.

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